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May 23, 2003

Transaction Analysis

May 19-21, 2003

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES Return to Top

Placed 2B-R Jerry Hairston on the 15-day DL (fractured foot); recalled 2B/SS-B Brian Roberts from Ottawa. [5/21]

Purchased the contract of 1B/C-R Carlos Mendez from Ottawa; claimed INF-R Felix Escalona off of waivers from the Devil Rays, and optioned him to Bowie (Double-A); transferred OF-R Marty Cordova from the 15- to 60-day DL. [5/19]

Losing Jerry Hairston for a month or two hurts. Think about that, because it has more than one meaning. On the most superficial level, it hurts because Hairston was having the best year of his not-so-young career. He was walking and hitting enough to make him not just a useful player for a second baseman, but one of the 10 best hitters at the position in MLB, and arguably the best second baseman in the AL not named Alfonso Soriano or Bret Boone. Considering he's just about to turn 27, the timing was right, and the injury's especially ill-timed if the Orioles wanted to avail themselves of the opportunity to trade him by the July 31 deadline. That may sound cynical, but it's pretty clear that Hairston will not develop into a great player, and if the Orioles can get anything close to a blue-chip prospect who might contribute to a competitive Orioles team--which is far off in the future as is--they'd be doing the smart thing.

The question is what they'll do in his absence. Sadly, they seem to be inclined to do the predictable thing, which is keep finding ways to get Deivi Cruz onto the field. Since they had the wisdom to play Brian Roberts at short a bit at Ottawa this year, it would be interesting if they elected to play Roberts at short in the majors to see if he can handle it, and Melvin Mora at second to leave him alone at a position he can handle. Or they could find ways to spot Jose Morban at short once a week or so. Unfortunately, the reflex seems to be to play Cruz at short and slap Roberts into Hairston's job, and call it good enough for Angelos work.

As for the rest, Carlos Mendez comes up after putting in a long career, in the Royals organization for the most part, without getting much of a look. There was a point, in 1997, where you might have considered him a prospect: he was 23, and in his debut season in Double-A, he hit .325/.346/.464, including 32 doubles and a dozen home runs. He wasn't catching much then, either, spending more time at first base and DH, because Wichita's backstops were the ill-fated Sal Fasano, organizational pet Hec Ortiz, and Ramy Brooks. The next year, in Omaha, he didn't catch much because of Fasano and the great Henry Mercedes. It's easy to pick on the Royals about this stuff, because it might have been worthwhile to give Mendez at least as much of a shot as a catcher as they ended up giving to the likes of Ortiz or Jorge Fabregas. But to be fair, nobody really thinks Mendez makes a great catcher, although in Sacramento last year, he did get into a semi-platoon situation with Cody McKay. Basically, he's a free swinger who makes contact and hits for a wee bit of sock, and that's useful on a team that doesn't have a good starting catcher or a great first baseman.

Lastly, nabbing Felix Escalona didn't give the organization a future all-star, but the Orioles' organization needs to think of its lack of depth as a handicap that they can turn to their advantage when it comes to waiver claims. Just as they can afford to spend a spot on Jose Morban on the off chance that he'll turn out to be something that saves them from the Deivi Cruz's of the future, it's worth taking a peek at Escalona on the chance that sticking him at a single position and letting him hit could turn him into something of value. He's supposed to have only just turned 24, and spending a good chunk of time out of the majors, playing every day, could be what he needs to be able to shine next spring.

BOSTON RED SOX Return to Top

Optioned RHP Jason Shiell to Pawtucket; purchased the contract of RHP Rudy Seanez from Pawtucket. [5/20]

Rudy Seanez is useful; he's been known to pitch for weeks at a time, donchaknow. That isn't a defense of Jason Shiell, of course; although he might have outpitched Chad Fox or Mike Timlin or Steve Woodard, he still hadn't pitched all that well. Take this as another one of the Red Sox's wacky flyers on the game's talents best known for being healthy once in a while. Pete Ladd can't be far behind, can he? Will the Twins ship them Mike Fetters? Eventually, you lump together enough bodies, and Re-Animator-style, you've got something close to a complete human being to fill a roster spot over the season's long march. "Traction Action" Seanez will get his chances, and might actually give the Sox a good month or two. After that, they'll need to give serious thought to putting him on the Gene Nelson plan, and shipping him off to a long, low-intensity rehab assignment until September. That is, if they want to have a shot at having him available in October, but even then, given that Seanez's working parts are as reliable as Italian machine-tooled engineering, he could break down at any point, rested or no, used or no. It's the neat thing about Rudy Seanez; he's the mound equivalent of a lottery. You know you'll lose at some point, you just have to hope you actually catch him on one of those multi-month stretches where he's ambulatory and useful and stuff.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX Return to Top

Named Greg Walker hitting coach. [5/19]

Much as Gary Ward might have been scapegoated, I'm sort of glad to see Greg Walker get this opportunity. First, because of the tragic way his career sort of petered out, marred by an on-field seizure and a slump that crimped the happy memory of one of the game's better young stars at first base from 1983-1987. Second, because as a hitter, he was a Hriniak guy, releasing his top hand at contact and bopping at a time when it was fashionable to deride the style as power-sapping. It will be interesting to see if Walker will encourage his charges to try the Lau-Hriniak philosophy he employed as a player. It was something Frank Thomas always liked well enough that he engaged Hriniak for a refresher long after the Sox had excused the old codger for his inveterate crustiness, so it's worth hoping that this might help Thomas and the other Sox hitters scuffling in the early going. And finally, while historical cachet has its perils, particularly in the way that it breathes life and employment into ex-players and ex-stars while reducing them to cronydom, it still has its cachet, which boils down to it just being a wee bit cool for those of us who enjoyed watching the guy hit way back when to see him wind up back with the team in some capacity. Now, hopefully, he'll do the job.

CLEVELAND INDIANS Return to Top

Announced that RHP Jerrod Riggan has declined his assignment to Buffalo, and has become a free agent. [5/21]

Heck, the Bisons just signed Danny Miceli, why would they need Jerrod Riggan? Seriously, Riggan made the right choice, in that there are other organizations that could use a reliever with big league experience, not all of it bad.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS Return to Top

Placed RHP Miguel Asencio on the 15-day DL (inflamed elbow), retroactive to 5/16; recalled LHP Scott Mullen from Omaha. [5/21]

My colleague Will Carroll has been sounding the warning bells about the Royals' young rotation for a while now, and I have to tip my cap to him. Asencio's elbow doesn't appear to be a laughing matter, and Runelvys Hernandez and Chris George have both been struggling the last few times out. Not just struggling, but laboring, which is the real concern. It's easy to carp that Asencio broke down shortly after pitching a 114-pitch complete game where nothing of significance was at stake; Asencio gave up a run in the second and fifth, so there wasn't even a shutout to perk him up. Hopefully, Asencio will be OK after a couple of weeks of rest, and the Royals will get by with Darrell May in the rotation in the meantime.

The organization's continuing mission this year is to keep breaking in new talent, not that that has anything to do with May or Mullen, to see if most of it survives (among the pitchers) and/or makes it (which goes for everybody). But given their odd good fortune in the early going, Allard Baird's crew also gets to see if they can really keep their threat to finish at or above .500 live, thereby locking in Mike Sweeney through 2007 right now, undoubtedly to the surprise of all concerned. Seeing as they're about to start a stretch where they play Oakland, Seattle, and the Dodgers over the next 12 games, I wouldn't be surprised to see that target start to stall even worse than it already has against Toronto, Seattle, and Minnesota. They shouldn't let themselves get too bent out of shape worrying about .500; this team isn't that good, and this organization has a long way to go. They've made progress from last year, and they're finally well into life after the Gunnery Sergeant. Every rebuilding project has its share of premature hope, so as long as the Royals don't go Bonifay on us, I'd bear with them.

NEW YORK YANKEES Return to Top

Recalled RHP Jose Contreras from Columbus; designated RHP Al Reyes for assignment. [5/20]

Well, as Joe Sheehan has cracked, Jose Contreras is apparently Spanish for 'Ed Whitson', so getting him back isn't exactly good news. Hell, beyond the question of the Whitson-like performance, like Whitson, Contreras has even become an issue between front office management and field management, all on the basis of his maximum whitsonocity. His ugly first performance coming as it did in the wake of the news that Steve Karsay's out for the year has Yankee haters chortling about how they can keep choosing to employ their financial advantage thisaways, because it does do wonders for any opponent's faith and hope to have the pinstriped menace out tens of millions while providing runs to said opponent. By contrast, boring old Al Reyes was a plain reliever, pretty good from the stretch, knew how to set up his off-speed stuff, nothing at all about him smacking of being from the land of forbidden leaves rolled on virgin thighs. That image alone has to be worth millions, right? Simple functionality just doesn't play in New York, not when there's the opportunity to airlift in an Eskimo or Albania's finest pitching prodigy or something.

Needless to say, I'm less than sanguine about how Joe Torre's in-season project to build a better bullpen is going.

SAN DIEGO PADRES Return to Top

Optioned LHP Mike Bynum to Portland. [5/18]

Activated RHP Adam Eaton from the 15-day DL. [5/20]

As if there was such a thing as too many reminders about why reality is better than fantasy, the Padres' in-season rotation wrangling is fascinating on the level that it defies anticipation or planning. It simply keeps getting cobbled and re-cobbled, reminding me of my car's semi-annoying tendency to reward me with a high-speed blowout now and again. Fortunately, these sorts of situations are survivable, and entertaining in their own way, although you can pretty much count on terrifying passengers, peers, and the presumed innocent. After all, have you really lived if you don't prove to yourself that you can change a flat inside of 20 minutes on a highway shoulder? I think not.

So tip your cap to the Pads. As of right now, the front end of their rotation is the talented trio of Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy, not really at their best, but still not a bad place to start. And then you've got the pair of retreads from last week's call-up-a-thon, the reconstructed Randy Keisler and multiply-reconstructed Carlton Loewer. On the surface of it, that sounds like how a team is supposed to build a good rotation: three talents you scared up yourself, and fourth and fifth slots stocked with retreads. But it sounds a lot easier in principle than it was in practice, and it remains to be seen what tomorrow holds. Eventually, that happy time when Oliver Perez and Dennis Tankersley can help will come, but in the meantime, Kevin Towers can enjoy that funhouse sensation when the wheel just suddenly goes the way you want it to.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Return to Top

Acquired RHP Mike Wilson from the Phillies for 1B-L Damon Minor. [5/19]

One random live arm for someone who could be a useful bench bat, and this on a team with two crotchety first basemen? No, this won't help the Giants' pennant chances, and it sort of defies explanation as to what this is supposed to do for the team in-season. It isn't like you can flip Wilson for something of value. Wilson has flipped back and forth between starting and relieving, and he's big, and he's wild, so he fits just about any need the Giants might have for him at Double-A. But did they really need this, now or into the future, more than they might end up needing Minor?

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Return to Top

Acquired 1B-L Damon Minor from the Giants for RHP Mike Wilson; assigned Minor to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [5/19]

A solid pickup for the Phillies. They need a lefty pinch-hitter with Tyler Houston out for a while, and if something happened to Jim Thome, they were otherwise stuck with choices like Dave Hollins' unsuccessful resurrection, or the recent fiddling with Eric Valent at first. Valent isn't hitting, and Hollins wasn't ever going to prior to his storming off in a huff and retiring for not getting a call-up, so the Phillies and the Red Barons are better off having Minor around. It's just a bit surprising that the Phillies didn't put Minor on their roster right now, given their need for another lefty pinch-hitter, and the unlikelihood that Larry Bowa is going to find a way to get either Joe Roa or Nick Punto into a game. Bowa isn't using his full roster, which merits a conversation between himself and his GM to decide if there's a better way to structure it to give the Phillies whatever weapons Bowa will put to work in-game.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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